Showing How to Stop Illegal Dumping

The "Show Me State" may be showing the rest of the country how to control illegal dumping. Recently, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Jefferson City, Mo., and consultants at Austin, Texas-based Reed, Stowe & Yanke, have developed a manual and conducted workshops to help local governments operate environmental enforcement programs.

By developing these programs, local governments can eliminate illegal dumping by enforcing laws or adopting stricter ordinances. Such programs encourage people to use legal alternatives for solid waste collection and disposal. Also, local governments save the expense of not having to repeatedly cleanup illegal dump sites.

"Many local governments realize huge costs involved in continuously cleaning these sites up and are beginning to invest in prevention programs," says Paul Ruesch, an environmental engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 based in Chicago. "The city of Detroit has estimated spending more than $5 million dollars in 1996 to clean up after illegal dumping."

The Missouri DNR's manual, "How to Establish and Operate an Environmental Enforcement Program," summarizes the state's illegal dumping and littering laws, lists contact information for state and regional resources, and highlights successful case studies in Missouri and across the United States.

Additionally, the manual explains how local governments can determine the magnitude of illegal dumping taking place in their communities. It describes how to establish and organize a structured prevention program, and advises cities and counties on how to improve coordination between each other's environmental enforcement departments. The manual also cover subjects such as:

- How to gain support for the program and its funding from elected officials and senior managers;

- How local governments can determine which departments (i.e. police, code enforcement, sanitation) are suited to operate an environmental enforcement program;

- How law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and judges coordinate efforts to ensure that illegal dumpers are prosecuted;

- How public education campaigns promote illegal dumping awareness, provide information about disposal and recycling and encourage public cooperation in identifying illegal dumpsites and prosecuting illegal dumpers; and

- How to ensure that illegal dumpsites remain clean.

Also, the guide provides examples of successful environmental enforcement programs. For example, in 1986, Jefferson County, Mo., began its enforcement program and has conducted more than 50,000 inspections that have resulted in more than 10,000 site cleanups. The county performs detailed investigations and takes action against illegal dumpers.

After identifying an illegal dump site, county officials advise responsible parties to cleanup the damage. If no action is taken after a series of notices, the case is referred to the county attorney. By coordinating with the county attorney, investigators know the information needed to ensure success in court.

Newton County, Mo., has found another way to discourage illegal dumping; more than 500 people convicted of this crime have provided 16,000 hours of litter collection along roads during the past four years. This program attributes its success to the cooperation between local judges and Newton County's Litter Control Program. Begun as a simple effort to discourage illegal dumping, the program has developed into a highly regarded illegal dumping abatement activity.

Along with the guide, the state conducted a series of six workshops to teach police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, judges and sanitation staff how to create and operate their own prevention programs. Each workshop included speakers from local communities who shared how their illegal dumping programs were successful.

For example, during one workshop, Mike Shaw of the city of Kansas City, Mo. Environmental Crimes Unit, discussed his city's enforcement program, and provided helpful techniques and real-life examples.

The first illegal dumping prevention guide was created for the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) in Texas in 1999. Cheryl Mergo, solid waste program coordinator for H-GAC says that the manual has helped municipalities effectively address their illegal dumping problems.

"Illegal dumping is a persistent problem in urban areas throughout the United States with extensive economic, social and environmental impacts," EPA's Ruesch adds. "Comprehensive prevention programs involve community outreach and education, targeted enforcement, securing sites to keep them clean, and measurement of impacts."

For more information call Reed, Stowe & Yanke at (512) 450-0991.